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Sponsored Feature: Interoperability and Autodesk FBX Technology

In this Autodesk-sponsored article, Games for Autodesk senior industry manager Michel Kripalani explains the fundamentals of the company's FBX technology, which allows developers to transfer 3D data types -- motion, cameras, characters, skeletal hierarchies, as well as 2D, audio, and video media -- across a wide range of 2D and 3D applications.

Being able to move data between applications in a production pipeline that employs multiple tools is crucial to the success of any digital content creation workflow, especially for game developers. For example, such companies often need to access existing content created with varied versions of their software because their pipelines are standardized on a particular version. To attract top-notch talent some boutique studios offer artists their choice of tools. When a film house collaborates with a game studio, data interoperability enables team members to share assets built with one toolset and repurpose them with another.

Data interoperability also enables production facilities to have artists modeling with one tool and animators working with a different tool that is better suited to the task. With interchange technology like Autodesk FBX, a company that prefers to model and animate characters using one toolset is able to outsource architectural and virtual environments to a company that uses a different toolset.

Managing data in production pipelines is becoming more complex. Autodesk FBX technology offers a solution to these complex interchange challenges. FBX technology makes it easier to transfer all manner of 3D data types across applications; including 3ds Max, Maya, and MotionBuilder software tools, as well as countless proprietary and third-party 2D and 3D tools and plug-ins. Most major 3D data elements, including motion, cameras, characters, non-polygonal surfaces, and skeletal hierarchies, as well as 2D, audio, and video media elements are supported by FBX technology.

Autodesk includes FBX plug-ins with both 3ds Max and Maya. MotionBuilder is built to support the FBX file format natively. Autodesk offers a free C++ SDK and API. There is a free utility for converting OBJ, DXF™, 3DS, COLLADA, and other file formats to the FBX file format. And an FBX viewer is available as a plug-in to QuickTime®.

The FBX plug-in and SDK deliver unprecedented levels of interoperability. But to take full advantage of this power, you need to be aware of the differences among your 3D applications and to understand how FBX technology helps you solve seemingly insurmountable challenges.

Understanding FBX

FBX is much more than a file format. The FBX technology family of tools offers a comprehensive data interchange solution. In the same way that PDF files let you share documents with users who do not own the word processor or page layout program those documents were created with, FBX technology lets you exchange data between 2D and 3D applications. The FBX file format, however, is more flexible than the PDF format, because data passed between applications via the FBX file format retains its ability to be manipulated.

When data recognized by FBX technology is exported to the FBX file format, it is usually stored in a lossless manner, retaining full fidelity and functionality. When importing an FBX file, FBX technology in the destination application examines the incoming data. If the data type is not recognized by the destination application, the FBX plug-in tries to convert the data to a form that produces a result functionally equivalent to the result produced in the source application.

For example, say you have an animation produced using a specific type of fcurve:

  • If on export the FBX processing technology recognizes the type of curve, it is stored in a lossless manner and retains full fidelity and functionality in the FBX file.

  • If on export the FBX technology does not recognize the curve type, the curve is automatically re-sampled (interpolated) using a type of curve supported by the FBX plug-in. When the FBX file is imported into the destination application, the result is full visual fidelity. Your ability to manipulate and edit the data is not limited. However the data will have been modified by the plug-in on import.

  • If on import the destination application recognizes the type of curve, the result is lossless interoperability.

  • If on import the destination application does not recognize the type of curve, the FBX plug-in attempts to interpolate the curve’s data so its intended result can be reproduced as closely as possible in the destination application.

FBX technology occasionally encounters data types that cannot be reconciled between two applications. These situations are usually caused by radically different design architectures in the source and destination applications. This issue cannot be reconciled by the interchange technology; it must first be addressed by the source and destination applications.

And herein is a source of confusion. FBX technology does not create new functionality in applications but rather rebuilds scenes from the source application using available functionality in the destination application.

Click here to download the FBX White Paper, which provides a detailed breakdown on Autodesk FBX technology capabilities.

What's new in FBX

FBX technology and tools are constantly evolving. The engineers at Autodesk are continually adding to its functionality and intelligence. User feedback is of vital importance in helping to ensure that the technology is moving in the right direction.

For example, a soon-to-be released version of FBX fulfills a request from game developers and implements support for exporting HLSL hardware shaders from 3ds Max and CgFX shaders from Maya using the FBX SDK API.

Additionally, the upcoming release implements improvements that speed performance and reduce the memory footprint of the plug-in. The user interface has been localized for Japanese, German, French, English, and other languages, and the interface is now completely customizable. Customizability gives a technical director the ability to create task-specific versions of the FBX toolset, so that, for example, a workgroup of modelers would see only those FBX technology tools of interest to them. This is an excellent way to standardize a pipeline.

The online, searchable, documentation has also been enhanced to make the learning experience more efficient. A 70-page printed manual introduces programmers to basic concepts and guides users through tutorials for using the SDK.

Each new version of FBX technology supports the most recent and the last two major releases of 3ds Max, Maya, and MotionBuilder software products to accommodate pipelines that are locked down in two- or three-year production cycles. In addition, newer versions of the FBX plug-ins can read and save earlier versions of the FBX file format.

The FBX technology family of tools provides universal 3D asset interchange, helping to break through data compatibility barriers; access legacy content after upgrading your pipeline to take advantage of the latest 3D tools; exchange digital assets with other studios; and use multiple 3D tools to realize your creative vision in the most efficient manner possible.

To learn more about FBX technology; download free of charge the FBX plug-ins, the SDK and API, and more; point your browser to http://www.autodesk.com/fbx. And to participate in the FBX user forum, visit http://www.the-area.com.

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